2015—Costa Rica—Poison Darts

On Wednesday, our fourth day on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, we visited what Gary and Moose called “Shady Lane.” What a charming name. I pictured tall mango trees, monstera vines, the occasional macaw flying over, a pretty, shady, rainforest retreat. The first part of the trek was not very picturesque and it didn’t even look much like the rainforest that surrounded us at Luna Lodge and it wasn’t particularly shady. There was a gravely dirt road and some large trees with open areas. When Gary summoned us to follow him, he warned that it was a bit treacherous. We entered what was to me, the forest primeval.

The forest was very wet, very green, had no trail to speak of, required wading through creeks, had no view of the sky, and featured the ever present din of cicadas. The humidity seemed even worse in this closed in environment. This really was the rainforest. We lugged macro lenses and flash units along with our cameras, long lenses, and tripods because we were anticipating seeing the tiny poison dart frog. We were not disappointed. Gary found one and placed it on a monstera leaf for us to photograph with our macro lenses and flashes, using the technique we’d used the first night with the red-eyed tree frog. This little creature, even smaller than the red-eyed tree frog, was less than 1 and 3/4 inches long. For me, achieving focus was no easier in the daylight with both contacts in my eyes. I did manage a few partially focused shots, however. This is only one of many colorful poison dart frogs in Costa Rica but it isn’t quite as appealing as the adorable red-eyed tree frog.

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2015—Costa Rica—One Big Bug

Anyone who knows me, even slightly, knows that I am extremely skittish around spiders, bugs, lizards, snakes, and any other creature that one might consider creepy crawly. What I learned in Costa Rica, however, is that it is impossible to steer clear of creepy crawlies and that one must gird one’s loins and get over any trepidations about them. My bungalow, which was open to the outdoors, was populated with a few geckos, moths or various dimensions, cicadas, ants, and many unseen creatures as well. I may have even had a bat or two, that while unseen, I could hear the sounds of frenzied wing flapping in my room at night. I thought it was probably the giant sphinx type moth that was with me all week, but after I learned that Richard had bats in his bungalow, I realized that’s probably what I was hearing. I slept comfortably under mosquito netting, however. And, after the first evening when I forced myself to step into the dimly lit shower stall, completely open to the outdoors, I accepted being up close and personal with them all.

One evening, Moose asked Gary our guide to put up a white sheet and a bright light at the highest point on the lodge grounds, the yoga platform. The light attracted so many species of moths and bugs that it was impossible to see and photograph them all. I had my fisheye with me that evening. For me, the most fascinating creature was also the biggest and, under normal circumstances I would have kept my distance. But I couldn’t resist kneeling down, inches away from a Rhinocerous Beetle that flew in, attracted by the light, and photographing it. This monster was about 5 inches long. This is one big bug! The bugs were everywhere and we had to tiptoe carefully to avoid smashing them. Here are a few of my favorite shots from that evening. That’s our guide Gary contemplating the white sheet and talking about the bugs. Ian, Kevin, and Eric are in the background.

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2015—Scarlet Fever

The Scarlet Macaws are ubiquitous on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica but they are absent from most other areas of the country. Their loud, raucous calls, their large size, and their brilliant plumage make them hard to ignore and their predominantly red coloring really pops against the lush green of the rain forest.

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2015—Angry Birds

Back home, sitting at the kitchen table cleaning my camera gear, I looked out the window to the fountain which was filled with at least a dozen bushtits. I’ve featured them before and it seems that this time of year, when it’s cold, and damp, and overcast, the bushtits can’t resist enthusiastic bathing. I grabbed one of the cameras and attached the 80-400mm lens, gently opened the patio door which was quite difficult because the winter humidity has swelled the wood, and stepped out. They all left but when I sat directly in front of the fountain, about four feet away, one by one they returned. I struggled with depth of field because I was too close and had the lens wide open. Stopping down the aperture a bit helped only slightly; I didn’t want to raise the ISO more than it already was and I wanted to retain a reasonable shutter speed. I was too close to get all of them in the shot at once so when I reviewed the shots, I found these few to be the most entertaining. The expressions on their faces (mostly females who have the yellow cornea) were so funny I couldn’t resist calling this post Angry Birds. And, the last shot is my favorite, with an angry-looking female directly behind an innocent looking, unsuspecting male; who knows what might be in the offing?

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2015—Bobo In The Wild

One of the things on my Costa Rica Bucket List was to see a Red-Lored Amazon in the wild. When I asked Gary, our guide, about the possibility and told him that I had a Red-lored Amazon companion parrot (the term “companion” is relative), he answered enthusiastically that “Yes! Tomorrow I will take you to see Red-Lored Parrots!” In Costa Rica, they don’t refer to them as “amazons” but rather “parrots.” Gary was true to his word and after our first encounter with them, whenever there was a sighting, Gary would call out, “there are some Bobos!”

While I was away, my own Bobo became ill. My vet noticed she was not acting like Bobo, ran some tests, and determined that Bobo had both fungal and bacterial infections. She put her on meds immediately and the difference in her behavior was instantaneous. That’s the good news. The bad news is that she needs to stay on her meds for another week which means I must towel her twice a day and give her oral medications with a syringe. While I’ve done this on more than one occasion in the past, it is traumatic for both Bobo and me. I am not looking forward to administering the first or any subsequent doses.

I took a photograph of Bobo to include with the “wild” Bobo photos. These Red-Lored Parrots are the green cheeked variety. Bobo has yellow cheeks. But I was amazed at how very similar their behavior and voices were. A few of the people in our group commented at how loud their calls were. I told them that I wake up to that every day. I instantly recognized the various Red-Lored sounds. I heard almost all of Bobo’s sounds from the wild parrots I saw, except none of them said “hi” or said, “Bobo’s a baaaaad boy!”

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2015—Costa Rica—Red-Eyed Tree Frog

I’m home but I am still riding the wave of euphoria that has enveloped me since I arrived at Luna Lodge on the Osa Peninusula in Costa Rica on January 18. The Osa Peninsula is a magical place. Its lush green beauty and the creatures that inhabit it are a photographer’s dream destination. In the coming days, I hope to share some of my experiences in both words and photographs. In Focus Daily has been on hiatus for the past week. Because I knew that the internet connection at Luna Lodge was not reliable, my plan was to prepare daily posts and publish them all on my return. That did not happen. Each day was filled with so much activity that leisure time was nominal. The group numbered eleven, including Moose, Sharon (AKA Mrs. Moose), and Kevin. As is typical on a K&M Adventure, we were up before the sun rose, we gathered for each meal and discussed the day, we shot and reviewed, and we parted company late in the evening to prepare our camera gear and ourselves for the next day’s activity. The humidity took its toll on our bodies and cool showers and head-dunkings were necessary more than once a day so I had no extra time to spend writing my blog or even deciding which photos were blog-worthy.

I’m starting with a couple of my favorite shots from the first day…actually the first night. After dinner Sunday evening, Moose announced that we were going on our first photo shoot. Everything about it was a unique experience. We had thirty minutes of instruction and practice using Moose’s macro technique which is bracing the camera held in the right hand against the left shoulder, looking through the view finder with the LEFT eye, manually focusing by moving the body fore and aft, hand holding the flash unit set to remote with the left hand passing under the right hand to the right side of the body aiming it at the subject, and pressing the shutter release which triggers the flash, illuminating the subject. This is not an easy to master technique and because I wear mono vision contact lenses, I couldn’t see to manually focus with my left eye and didn’t listen when Kevin suggested changing the diopter setting on my camera’s viewfinder (I later did so and discovered it worked-I should have listened). I struggled and finally decided to use my right eye which made things extremely awkward.

We donned headlamps and strode, single file, into the darkness of the rainforest illuminating a narrow, wet, slippery, leaf-covered, root crisscrossed, steep path to the frog ponds, after a warning to stay on the trail because thar be poisonous snakes. With the steamy, jungly, dense vegetation and the deafening, high-pitched whining of the cicadas surrounding us, there was no doubt we were in the midst of the rainforest. During our hour and a half long treacherous trek, we encountered lots of frogs, a young tarantula, and even a small snake eating a frog. But the highlight of our trek, for me, was the red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas), a small, two inch, iconic rain-forest amphibian which is often a symbol of Costa Rica. As we jostled for position to photograph the frog, which Gary, our wonderful guide, found and placed atop a monstera leaf, I bumped my camera against my right eye, dislodging my contact lens. I thought my lens had dropped to the trail but the gods were with me and I felt it on my cheek. I carefully placed it in my pocket (I wear hard contacts) and, from then on, I was essentially blind, seeing only blurry images through my viewfinder and guessing when things were in focus. Most weren’t but I managed to get these two images of this adorable, cooperative, red-eyed tree frog in focus.

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2015—Costa Rica — Parrot Heaven Already

I ate an early dinner with Richard, one of my fellow photographers on this trip, at the Denny’s across from the hotel. Yes, Denny’s; it was one of the few options for a meal close by, the others being McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Rostipollos, a Costa Rican based franchise chain. Our meal was acceptable and since neither Richard nor I eat at Denny’s in the US, we were, in a way, trying food foreign to us. I do think, however, that on my way home next week, I’ll select the Rostipollos option.

As we walked back to the hotel, an ear piercing, raucous din surrounded us. There were birds in all of the palms and other trees by the hotel. I looked up and to my delight they were green parrots. I ran back to my room, got a camera and my long lens and ran back outside. It was such fun to watch these colorful animated birds cavorting in the trees before settling in for the night. The doorman told me that the pericos sleep in the trees every night and fly off every morning at 6AM.

A couple who were birders from Fort Worth, TX declared that they were red-lored Amazons. I assured them they were not, as I am intimately acquainted with that species. I thought they were conures. The “Birds of Costa Rica” Kindle book on my iPhone identified them as aratinga finschi, a type of conure, also known as the crimson fronted parakeet, or perico frentirroho in Costa Rica. It is the most common parrot seen in the San José area.

In a period of about 40 minutes between 4:40 and 5:20PM, I took 368 photographs of these birds. I discovered what I already knew: birds in flight are very difficult to photograph. But, I did manage to get a few still shots that I thought were blog-worthy. Each shows some examples of common parrot behavior. The preening is sweet and it seems to be a nighttime ritual which might explain why Bobo allows me to preen her head just before bedtime. I use fingers, however, not my mouth. And, it’s fascinating to me that they use their tails as stabilizers, like woodpeckers do. I’ve never noticed Bobo doing that but then again, I’ve never seen her climb a palm tree. I couldn’t decide if they were playing or fighting when small skirmishes broke out over a place to roost. When it got too dark, I returned to my room and took a photograph of the sunset through the window. I’m happy, and if I don’t see another parrot while I’m here, I enjoyed most of an hour as one of the few interested observers of this fascinating spectacle on this day.

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2015-Costa Rica-Tamales Today

I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica Friday night. I came down a day earlier than everyone else so I’m taking it easy today. Early tomorrow we will fly in puddle jumpers to Luna Lodge deep in the rain forest on the Osa Peninsula. I had to tell Moose my weight. Gasp! I lied. Gasp! But only by 1 pound and Friday when I left home I weighed what I told him. Phew. Hope there’s no scale at the airport.

The San Jose Airport Hampton Inn is a jumping off place for various adventurers who, as I write, are congregating with their various groups in the communal breakfast room. The breakfast fare is typical for any chain hotel: yogurt, granola, scrambled eggs, waffles, fruit, tamales wrapped in banana leaves. Say what? Of course that’s what I chose for breakfast. ¡Deliciosa! And I think this is a “first” for In Focus Daily. I wrote this entire post on my iPhone and I took the photo with my iPhone…a bit ironic I suppose as I am in Costa Rica on a photography adventure with my “big girl” cameras.

Addendum: I just looked at this post, and its accompanying photograph, on my computer screen. When I took this shot on my iPhone, I didn’t notice the mosquito perched on the banana leaf, a significant irony, as two of my blog followers can attest. While I waited at the Phoenix airport to fly to Costa Rica, I frantically corresponded with them over whether or not I should take the anti-malaria pills my overly cautious doctor prescribed. Costa Rica has few traveler health requirements and I just didn’t want to take one more pill, whose side effects were quite alarming and which I hadn’t reviewed until that morning. I decided against taking it (Moose also chimed in and he doesn’t do it) so to see my potential nemesis perched on my breakfast, yikes!

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2015—For The Birds

While packing my camera gear for my trip, I noticed lots of bird activity at the fountain so I stopped what I was doing, picked up a camera, attached a lens, and missed the shot. The hummers were bathing at one point, the bushtits were cavorting, and the goldfinches, too. I missed it all but a little while later, camera and lens still married, I finally got this lesser goldfinch bathing enthusiastically. Right after I got these shots, I missed the hummer which was chirping at the feeder only a few feet away; I turned but I was too close to get him in focus with my long lens and by the time I stepped back, he was gone. So, my bird photography today was literally, for the birds, plus it sucked. But I’m hoping that I’ll do better with birds in Costa Rica. My blog may be spotty or nonexistent for a week or so as I am uncertain about the wifi connection at Luna Lodge.

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2015—Ghostly Skeleton

The Valley’s tule fog has returned——at least for now. The thick, pea soup, ground-clinging tule fog we experience in the winter here has been largely absent the past couple of years because of the drought. The past few mornings have been quite foggy and tule fog can make driving exceptionally dangerous and nerve wracking (think, “can’t see the hood ornament”) and I have canceled more than one trip over the years because of tule fog. But, the fog wasn’t horribly thick Tuesday morning and it made the landscape exceptionally mysterious, etherial, and alluring. I was late to the gym because on the way, a ghostly, skeletal oak lured me over. The sun was beginning to dissolve the fog and I knew I had just minutes to capture this mood.

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2015—Silent Haunches

Carl Sandburg’s poem “Fog” came to mind Sunday morning when I looked out at the dense mist enveloping my neighborhood. It stayed for a while, then moved on.

FOG

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

I think this photo depicts the “silent haunches” part.

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2015—It’s Just Wine In Pill Form

A friend pointed out an article in the food section of the paper the other day that carried a headline: “Braising a parrot: Tidbits of history.” Of course that headline caught my attention. After reading it, though, I wasn’t too concerned about losing Bobo to the stew pot (I wonder if parrots taste like chicken?) because the parrot braising recipe from the first century B.C. was really for flamingoes and, only as an aside, did the ancient cookbook author mention the parrot option. What made me laugh out loud when I read the rest of the article was a quote from 18th Century French food writer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin about someone who, upon being served grapes for dessert, said, “Thank you very much, but I am not accustomed to take my wine in the form of pills.” Of course after reading that, I couldn’t resist taking a photograph of a bunch of “wine pills” I had just bought. And, I couldn’t resist using my fisheye lens for this shot just to see what it would do. The interesting thing to me is that because the lens has such a wide angle, lots of light came into the shot from the top despite the solid background that surrounded the grapes with black up 40 inches. The fisheye effect makes the grapes in the back seem small but they were all the same size.

D800; Focal Length 10.5 (DX lens); ISO 100; f/2.8; 1/3 sec.

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2015—Descending and Emerging

Once again, the Flickr daily challenge has helped me decide on a blog post. A challenge from a few days ago was “descent.” And, to make the most of the hummingbird shots I captured yesterday, my first of 2015, I’m using a couple of them today because I think they depict that topic fairly well. I took these shots less than a second apart. In the first, the hummer is plunging head first into into the bubble in the middle of the fountain; I love that his beak is refracted by the water bubble and looks as if it not attached to him. In the second, he has emerged from his descent. I am fascinated that the hummers bathe every day in the fountain, whether it is 100° out or in the 30’s. The fountain doesn’t freeze because the water is pumped continuously but I know if the temperature drops too far below 32°, it probably will freeze over. Temperatures that low happen rarely around here but I have had to take the hummingbird feeders in at night on occasion to keep them from freezing.

Nikon D7100; Focal Length 400mm; ISO 320; f/6.3; 1/250s; flash (Speed light and Better Beamer)

The Better Beamer is a ridiculous-looking contraption attached by Velcro to the speed light with a fresnel lens to augment the flash, something that might be necessary in the dark areas of the rain forest in Costa Rica. The Better Beamer was overkill for these shots, though it was fairly dark out in my deeply shaded backyard at 7:30AM. I had to reduce the flash intensity to compensate for the brightness because I wanted to practice with it a little before going to Costa Rica. The Better Beamer was recommended to me by one of the judges at my camera club a few months ago when he learned I would be traveling to Costa Rica and Moose Peterson also included it on his list of suggested camera gear for Costa Rica.

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2015—Diving In

I’ve been frustrated because it’s already the 9th of January and, until this morning, I hadn’t taken a decent hummingbird shot. This morning, though, the hummer dove into the bubble in the fountain and continued to splash about while I approached and sat directly in front of him. He obviously enjoys his baths so much that he decided to stay put while I took pictures. He did keep a wary eye on me the entire time, though. I thought these shots were fascinating, especially the second one, with his eye closed and a water droplet on his eyelid. That bird doesn’t look much like the hummingbird we’re used to seeing.

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2015—Crumpled

While I was in the midst of wrestling with my tripod trying to figure out how to set it up to take a photograph of something in an awkward place, I laid my camera on the kitchen countertop. I was using “live view” instead of the viewfinder at the time so the LCD screen on the back of the camera displayed the scene in front of the lens. I started to turn back to my tripod dilemma but the scene on the LCD screen caught my attention. A used, crumpled paper napkin, soon to find its way to the trash, was lying on the countertop and to me, created a perfect composition. For some reason, I was absolutely taken by the scene and abandoned my other project to focus on the napkin. As fate would have it, I had been thinking about what I could use for another recent Flickr challenge, “everyday object,” and when this very ordinary, everyday object filled my viewfinder it was serendipity once again for me.

I wanted the napkin to dominate the scene and because it’s white, it pretty much does. I opened the lens to create as shallow a depth of field as I could to isolate my subject. The bokeh on the bowl of apples and the bokeh light to its upper left (a light from the condos over my back wall and across the street) are a nice bonus. In an effort to get the entire napkin in focus but keep the shallow depth of field, I tried focus stacking again but I apparently moved the camera a little too much as I was changing the area of focus for each shot. The resulting stacked shot ruined the bokeh in the background and the napkin still wasn’t completely in focus. I ended up choosing one shot that I thought best showed this ordinary, everyday object.

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2015—Pearls of Wisdom

My pearls of wisdom for today are 1) never try to retake a good shot with the intention of improving on it because it will never happen and 2) never use round chocolate as a photographic subject if you hope to eat it afterward.

These really ARE pearls. They just didn’t come from the sea. They are Godiva Dark Chocolate Pearls something I picked up at Kohl’s the other day while I waited in line with everyone who had post Christmas purchases and returns. Retailers are always smart to have seductive chocolate temptations at or near the checkout line. Works with me, every time.

I thought this would make an interesting subject and I thought I got the shot I wanted after taking just a few. It was only when I realized that there were distracting shadows through the reflections that I tried to retake the shot by changing the direction of the lighting. That’s when everything went to pieces. A slight jarring and the little pea-sized pearls rolled every which way, off the glass, and onto the floor. Many subsequent attempts at improving my early shots went awry so I settled on one of the first shots I took. And, sadly, the little dark chocolate gems were inedible after so many trips to the floor.

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2015—The Year Of The Bird

2015 is shaping up to be the “Year of the Bird” for me. In a few days, I’ll be in Costa Rica, photographing the colorful birds and other wildlife in the rain forest. This is another photography workshop with Moose Peterson and Kevin Dobler. Then, in February, I’ll be in Port Aransas, TX visiting my friends Susan and Chris. Port A, on the Gulf of Mexico, is where I first discovered bird photography 8 years ago, even before I had a DSLR. And, in March, I’ll be back in Texas, this time in the Galveston area, photographing migrating birds along the Texas Spring Migration route with my friend Connie whom I met last year on a Moose and Kevin adventure at Arches National Park in Utah. On my way home from Texas, I’ll be stopping in Prescott, AZ visiting Melinda and Lonnie. Melinda is my photography buddy who encouraged me to get my first DSLR. Last year, my blog featured many photos of birds I took in her backyard and environs. Of course, lots of birds continue to visit my own backyard; I have a companion parrot who makes a captive subject at times; I photograph events for the California Foundation for Birds of Prey; and, I live in middle of the Pacific Flyway. I think I’ll have lots of opportunities to photograph birds at home in 2015.

With all the practice I’ll be getting, I hope to improve my bird photography in 2015. I especially want to be able to capture in focus shots of birds in flight. That has been such a challenge for me. Sometimes I luck out and sometimes I don’t.

I’m not featuring a bird photograph I took today, or even this year. Instead, taking a cue from my friend Melinda, who reminded me that a Flickr group challenge for the first week of January was a reflection on favorite photos from 2014, I’ve created a collage of bird photos, one I took in each month of the year. And, with the exception of the osprey whose flight I captured in Texas, I photographed all the rest somewhere in California, many in my own yard or house.

So, please enjoy some of my favorite bird photos from 2014.

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2014—Blue Light

My macro lens has exposed a few imperfections in the glass lens(?) on my brand new blue Mini-Maglite. I might be a little upset if one of my camera lenses looked like that but I don’t think it matters too much on a cheap flashlight. I am always surprised at what my macro lens reveals that the naked eye seems to have trouble discerning.

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2015—Ground(ed) Transportation

I sometimes think I have a twisted mind and when a recent Flickr challenge topic was “transportation” I couldn’t just photograph a car or train or bus. No, I immediately thought of a witch’s broom and I have the perfect broom that a witch might have ridden. That isn’t the twisted part, though. When I felt the need to add the puddle of green goo that was once the Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz,” I knew that my “twist” on this challenge might be too much for some. So, I apologize to anyone who sees this shot and is a bit unsettled by it.

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